Officials from the Utah Public Service Commission and its advisory board will meet Tuesday to determine if the current 3-cent-per-month surcharge on telephone billings for funding a relay system to aid the hearing impaired should be increased.
The PSC has scheduled a 9 a.m. prehearing conference in the commission's fourth-floor hearing room in the Heber M. Wells State Office Building, 160 E. Third South in Salt Lake City.The prehearing is in response to a request by David Mortensen, chairman of the PSC's advisory committee. Those attending should be prepared to help define issues, present motions and set a timetable for hearing testimony if necessary.
Tim Funk of the Committee for Consumer Services, a state-funded advocacy group for residential, small business and agricultural utility consumers, said the existing system is not meeting the present demand. He said additional equipment is needed by the visually and hearing impaired.
Funk said his group hopes to see full hearings scheduled by early April to hear expert testimony and to discuss the need for increasing system capacity, making additional equipment available to the disabled and increasing the surcharge if necessary.
Utah law requires that such a system be provided and authorizes use of a surcharge to pay for the service. The PSC is charged with overseeing the program and setting the surcharge limit.
New technology coming on the market allows a person who is both deaf and blind to make use of the telephone. A computer-assisted device can transform voice signals into a Braille printout that a blind person can read. This same technology is also being used to provide translation of television dialogue to allow the blind to "watch" television.
Funk said the committee hopes to have expert testimony from at least one person who has participated in a pilot program using the Braille system in Illinois.